A’s finish sweep of Rangers, win AL West

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The A’s finished off their incredible comeback in style Wednesday, overcoming a 5-1 deficit to pound the Rangers 12-5 and win the AL West.

Today marks the first time all year the A’s have been alone in first place in the AL West. They were as many as 13 games behind Texas on June 30.

The A’s claimed the division despite finishing the season with a rotation containing five rookies. They had one All-Star (reliever Ryan Cook) to the Rangers’ eight. It’s quite likely that they’ll place no one in the top 10 in the AL MVP balloting or in the top five in the Cy Young balloting.

Texas jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third today in part because the A’s failed to handle a pair of popups. The first one resulted in one out anyway (the runner had to wait halfway between first and second on the fly to shallow right), but it likely would have been a double play had it been caught, since Josh Hamilton ran from second to third on the ball. The second popup fell just fair about a third of the way down the third-base line.

The A’s came right back in the fourth, though, collecting three straight hits to knock Ryan Dempster out of the game. They tied it at 5 on a Coco Crisp double. Later, with two outs and two on, Yoenis Cespedes hit a fly to center than Hamilton seemed to see all of the way. However, at the very last second, he apparently lost it in the sun, as it ended up going just wide of his glove for a two-run error.

The Oakland bullpen kept the Rangers quiet from there, doing a masterful job once again. Evan Scribner pitched three scoreless innings after starter A.J. Griffin was pulled in the third. Cook turned in a scoreless seventh while working for the fifth straight day and then fellow rookie Sean Doolittle tossed a scoreless eighth while pitching on a fourth straight day. The A’s busted it open in the bottom of the eighth, scoring four runs to up their lead from three to seven.

Despite the result today, the A’s still have no idea who they’ll be facing in the postseason. It could even be the Rangers if the Yankees lose, giving the A’s the AL’s top seed, and the Rangers win the wild card game against the Orioles or Yankees.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.